If you need the briefest of insights into just how difficult the job of England soccer manager is, consider that Roy Hodgson has a 100% record after two matches and people are still unhappy. In fact, change “unhappy” to “fuming.”
The reason for the rage stems from the new manager leaving out one of England’s most famous players, the Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, from his squad for Euro 2012. It’s never an easy conversation: legend has it that when Glenn Hoddle gave Paul Gascoigne the bad news ahead of the 1998 World Cup, Gazza trashed the room (these days, managers sensibly pick up the phone, as Hodgson did the day before revealing his squad to the world). And the party line when it came to Ferdinand – who got a first taste for international tournament football at France ’98 – was that it was to do with “footballing reasons,” a phrase Hodgson would have to trot out and defend multiple times at his very next press conference, leading him to wonder aloud if anything else would be asked of him.
Presumably, the England manager has doubts over whether the 33-year old Ferdinand can stand the undoubtedly tough rigors of tournament football, where England will play a minimum of three games in eight days (and potentially as many as six in 21 days … no laughing at the back). But Ferdinand has played more football over the past two years than the slightly younger Steven Gerrard, who was not only included in the squad but named as captain by Hodgson. Frank Lampard, Ferdinand’s one-time teammate at West Ham, is five months older, but he too was one of the original picks until an injury in training did for him. And the ultimate arbiter of management sense, Ferdinand’s club boss, the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, was continuing to select the Londoner which really tells you everything you need to know. Yes, we acknowledge that Sir Alex recently gave an interview where he questioned whether his player would be able to participate in all of England’s games but the fact remains that Ferguson picked Ferdinand on no fewer than 37 occasions last season (he played more in the English Premier League than at any time since the 2007-08 campaign).
You’re still not convinced? How about Rio’s resume of five EPL titles, one Champions League and 81 appearances for his national side? It’s the sort of invaluable experience which would have been passed on to the youngsters Hodgson wants to blood in Poland and Ukraine this month.
But alas it’s not to be. Before the latest debacle kicked in over this past weekend, many fans felt that “footballing reasons” should be swapped for “legal reasons,” in light of Ferdinand’s fellow defender John Terry being selected despite the looming magistrates’ court appearance which hangs over him for being accused of racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother, Anton (Terry strenuously denies the charge).
And the conspiracy theories went into overdrive as a result of the fallout from the recent friendly international against Belgium, which England won 1-0. But the game barely mattered, in light of defender Gary Cahill getting injured (and quickly being ruled out of the tournament). Surely now Hodgson would call up Ferdinand for those good old “footballing reasons”? Since the initial squad was named, as well as Lampard, Gareth Barry – also in his 30’s – pulled out and was replaced by the versatile Phil Jagielka (admittedly, he was on Hodgson’s standby list) but Ferdinand wisely kept his silence. Yet when the barely known Liverpool defender Martin Kelly (also on the standby list) got the call ahead of Ferdinand, the shackles were off. “What reasons?????!!!” Ferdinand tweeted.
His representative Jamie Moralee went beyond 140 characters to state, “Lampard, Terry, Barry, Gerrard; all aging but they go to the tournament. Why is Rio different? To treat a player that has captained and served his country 81 times (in this manner) is nothing short of disgraceful. Total lack of respect from Hodgson and the FA as far as I am concerned.”
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The ramifications spread throughout the entire back four. If we dig even deeper into the weeds, the argument can be made that Kelly isn’t really a replacement for Cahill but rather a back-up for his club teammate Glen Johnson, the Liverpool right back (Kelly has such limited experience in central defence that heaven help us England fans if he’s called upon in that position). The counter-proposal is that Manchester City’s Micah Richards is the best possible option but he reportedly felt slighted at being left out – and not informed on the phone by Hodgson – that he asked to be taken off the standby list (a similar situation explains why Manchester United’s Michael Carrick hasn’t been part of the discussions). Ironically, Kelly’s call-up means that there are six Liverpool players in the 23-man squad, which is more than any other club. Why ironic? Because Hodgson had an utterly miserable 191-day tenure as manager of Liverpool at the start of the 2010-11 season.
And in a parallel universe, the decision would have been taken out of Hodgson’s hands with his new employers, the FA, not selecting Terry due to the impending court case. Ferdinand could have participated (finally seeing him go to a Euro tournament after missing the previous three for wildly different reasons) and not had the prospect of friction between him and JT even enter into the equation. Instead, the footballing gods continue to shine down upon Terry: his Chelsea teammates just won the Champions League against all odds (a banned Terry was still allowed to lift the trophy, changing into his full kit, which either made your smirk or sneer) and he even overcame a tight hamstring after the Belgium game to ensure that he would be on the plane. But if Terry does feel a twinge at some point between now and England’s opening game next Monday against France, 60 million fans – for “footballing reasons” of course – will be instantly able to tell Roy Hodgson the two words on their lips when it comes to the ideal replacement.